Europe war to go ahead
THIS article was penned just minutes from Punchestown Racecourse this morning and the bitter-cold chill in the air was proof, if any was needed, that the extra man power and hardship required to lay the frost covers on Tuesday was well worth it.
Heavy rain or worse again, snow, would have left removing the covers difficult. But without them and after the heavy frost the track has endured over the last 48 hours, racing on Sunday may have been cast in doubt.
However, the green flag already looks as good as raised barring some disastrous event and for the second weekend running Boylesports crop up as big race sponsors.
Just as they did at Leopardstown last weekend, the betting firm couldn't have asked for a better line-up for this weekend's Tied Cottage Chase.
Sizing Europe and Big Zeb will clash in what is as good as a two-horse race and the two former champion chasers will give racing folk something to really look forward to on what is a mild weekend in terms of quality.
The pair have exchanged the Queen Mother Champion Chase crown for the Cheltenham Festival for the last two years, with Sizing Europe is the current king of the two-mile division.
He is still favourite to retain that title this coming March, but on the back of three consecutive wins, the first of which was when beating Sizing Europe at the Punchestown Festival last May, connections of Big Zeb will be bullish in regaining the Tied Cottage, which he won back in 2010.
Big Zeb and Sizing Europe have met on three occasions, all of which came last season and the first of those was in the Tied Cottage 12 months ago. On that occasion it was the ill-fated Golden Silver who won the race and had them both behind, but Big Zeb won the personal duel with seven lengths to spare from Sizing Europe, who was third.
That form was reversed at Cheltenham, however, as Big Zeb was five lengths adrift in second in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, which saw an Irish-trained 1-2-3-4.
And in a thrilling finish at the Punchestown Festival, Big Zeb got revenge with a three-quarters-of-a-length win in the Boylesports.com Champion Chase.
It is undoubtedly the biggest race of the weekend, but one that will only be a small guide as to what is to come in March.
Neither trainer will be too despondent if their stable star suffers defeat, nor will either Colm Murphy nor Henry de Bromhead be getting carried away should they record victory.
In saying all that, though, there is a Grade Two with €26,000 going to the winner which neither would mind collecting.
Punchestown will be hopeful of a good crowd for Sunday's meeting, despite the Six Nations rugby match at 3.0pm.
The fact that both Kildare and Dublin are playing in the Allianz National Football League tomorrow evening will be a big plus.
The biggest positive of all is their own incentive, though -- continuing to charge just €10 admission (€7 student or OAP) -- and with the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle and the ever exciting Cross Country Chase also on the card, expect a decent turnout to the Kildare track.
Now a teenager, 13-year-old Garde Champetre will bid for his fifth win around the Punchestown Cross Country course and an 11th win in those type of events altogether, a feat which could bring one of the best receptions of the afternoon.
Clues for some of the novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival will hopefully be found after the Moscow Flyer, while the Grade C Grand National Trial is another interesting contest on the seven-race card.